I love the cover, and short stories work so well when you don’t have a huge amount of time (or, like me these days, the attention span of a goldfish. Seriously, I can barely remember my own name… But since not reading is def not an option, I’m hording short stories).
The Wicked Stepbrother and Other Stories by Warren Rochelle Released in September in the Fantasy, Short Stories, LGBTQ+, Romance genre.
Fairy tales. We all know the traditional stories, right? Prince Charming, the hero, fights evil, wins the princess, happily ever after. Three sons, three wishes, witches, dragons, a quest, and happily ever after.
These stories are part of our cultural fabric. We retell them, over and over, and the stories change in the retellings, to reflect contemporary culture, such as Princess Charming, heroes and heroines as people of color. It has been only relatively recently that queer folk have found their way into the retellings, as they have here, in this collection of stories, stories that grew out of questions:
What if the prince falls in love with Cinderella’s gay stepbrother?
What if Rumpelstiltskin doesn’t really want the Queen’s child? He wants his old boyfriend back, the King.
What if Beauty and the Beast were two men?
As fairy tales do, these stories explore the human condition, human experience, through the metaphors of magic and the magical, exploring what it means to be human. After all, all fairy tales are true. But this time, with a gay perspective.
In these tales, retellings and original ones, readers are asked to consider what price must be paid for happily ever after—which is not guaranteed. Love, on the other hand, without a doubt. These tales are love stories.
Duty or love? Is love worth great sacrifice?
So… once upon a time….
From “The Wicked Stepbrother.”
“Well. Lord Culver, are we done? Are there no more women to try on the shoe?” Aidan asked as he stood from where he had sat all morning, next to my grandfather’s great tome of a dictionary.
I was about to say no when my stable manager interrupted. “There’s one more, Elena. She’s in the kitchen, washing dishes. I saw her there when I came up.”
Before I could protest, Aidan ordered her brought to the library.
When Elena came in, her hair braided and pulled back to keep it out of the sink, I knew, with a sudden certainty, who had stared at me before running away. She had to have had magical help. She glanced at me before sitting down in the chair facing Aidan and his shoe. A quick flash of triumph.
I hated her.
Of course, the crystal slipper fit. Of course, she had its mate in her apron pocket.
“I have found her—my wife-to-be,” Aidan said as he stood, taking Elena’s hand, and gesturing to the room. Every woman still in line, all the male staff around me, my stable manager, the prince’s entourage, burst into applause. I clapped, too, even though I felt like I was going to throw up.
So much for my half-loaf.
An hour before they left for the capital, after a dove was sent ahead with the news, Aidan took me aside, taking me back to the library. Holding my hand, he sat me down in an overstuffed chair in a reading alcove that overlooked the orchards.
“Cal. It’s going to be all right. I have to marry her, and get her with child, but you are my true love; you’ll be my mistress—my lover. I’ll fix that house for you. Cal?”
“Aidan, that might have worked with any other woman but not Elena. She hates me, and—I’ve not been nice to her. She won’t share.”
There was a knock at the door, and the soft voice of one of his guards: “Your Highness. The Lady Elena has bathed and dressed. Her companion is ready as well. Your car is ready; another dove was sent to the King telling him you and the Lady are due to arrive soon.”
“I will meet everyone at the car in ten minutes,” Aidan shouted back through the door. Then he turned to me. “She’ll share; she’ll have her place and you’ll have yours. Here, in my heart, no one closer. Walk with me to the car.”
I so wanted to believe him, and I did until we walked down the steps. I recognized the companion, who waited by the prince’s car, the little old lady who lived by the river, her old maid. And I smelled her: first folk, a pureblood, a true silver. I clenched my teeth. That old hag had done the magic for Elena. I learned later the old bitch had been with Elena since her birth and with the earl’s family for at least three generations. She had been biding her time in that little house by the river. Now she stared at me, with a triumphant smirk. I sniffed again: she was very powerful and she wasn’t afraid of me.
I jerked around to face Elena. She was beautiful, as she had been when she came to Colomendy years ago. So, the hag had hidden her weak eye—some magical disguise. She glanced back quickly to find Aidan, who was at the door, conferring with his head guard and chauffeur, then turned back to me, getting as close as she could without touching.
“You monster. You lose,” she hissed, her breath warmth on my face.
“It’s not over; he’s mine. He wants me, not you,” I hissed back.
“He wants you?” She stared at me, incredulous, then glanced again at Aidan who was still talking to his servants. She laughed. “All the better then, eh?”
Then, in a flurry of commands and good-byes and thank yous (and one furtive squeeze of my hand) they were gone.
A month and a half later, on New Year’s Day, they were married.
Warren Rochelle lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, and has just retired from teaching English at the University of Mary Washington. His short fiction and poetry have been published in such journals and anthologies as Icarus, North Carolina Literary Review, Forbidden Lines, Aboriginal Science Fiction, Collective Fallout, Queer Fish 2, Empty Oaks, Quantum Fairy Tales, Migration, The Silver Gryphon, Jaelle Her Book, Colonnades, and Graffiti, as well as the Asheville Poetry Review, GW Magazine, Crucible, The Charlotte Poetry Review, and Romance and Beyond.
His short story, “The Golden Boy,” was a finalist for the 2004 Spectrum Award for Short Fiction. His short story “Mirrors,” was just published in Under A Green Rose, a queering romance anthology, from Cuil Press. “The Latest Thing,” a flash fiction story, is forthcoming in the Queer Sci Fi anthology, Innovation.
Rochelle is also the author of four novels: The Wild Boy (2001), Harvest of Changelings (2007), and The Called (2010), all published by Golden Gryphon Press, and The Werewolf and His Boy, published by Samhain Publishing in September 2016. The Werewolf and His Boy was re-released from JMS Books in August 2020. The Wicked Stepbrother and Other Stories is forthcoming from JMS Books in late September 2020.
What inspired me?
Fairy tales and gay retellings inspired me, and gay fairy tales—retellings and originals—are the broad subject of this story collection. I have always been fascinated by fairy tales and their place in our culture. Growing up, I read the Lang color series, the Oz books, and a great many other collections I found in the school and the public libraries. I haunted the 398 section on the shelves. Fairy tales, and fantasy, and science fiction, in many ways, shaped my childhood and adolescence, and have continued to have a significant presence in my adult life as a reader and a writer. These stories, are part of our cultural fabric, and their metaphors and themes are a part of our language. Without having to be told, we know what a Cinderella story is, and the significance of three wishes and Prince Charming and Sleeping Beauty.
I have always been intrigued by the variations of any given fairy tale and given that fairy tales were originally oral, this variation seems inherent in the genre, even when they began to be written down in the 17th century. According to the Eden Valley Enrterprises website, Cinderella Around the World, “Scholars disagree as to exactly how many versions of the popular tale exist, with numbers ranging from 340 to over 3,000 versions, including picture books and musical interpretations…” ( http://www.edenvalleyenterprises.org).
But where are the queer characters? Yes, in contemporary retellings, such as the stories in this collection, the queer characters are present, but not so in the traditional versions. Yes, there are comrades traveling together, and best friends having fantastic adventures, but no characters were explicitly queer. Queer theory does provide ways to interpret the stories through a queer lens. Recently, as I was reading the proof copy of this book, I came across an article discussing the work of a Cornish scholar and writer, Pete Jordi Wood, who argues that the missing queer characters and their stories was a deliberate omission by one of the men responsible for creating the ATU cataloging system for fairy tales.
So, I decided to write my own gay-themed fairy tales, retellings and original tales. My goal and intention was make these tales personal and universal, and to acknowledge and use, in the retellings, their core truths—truths imagined and reinterpreted. The story, of course, comes first. But, as Le Guin says, “All fiction has ethical, political, and social weight, and sometimes the works that weigh the heaviest are those apparently fluffy or escapist fictions …” (in “Where Do You Get Your Ideas From,” Dancing at the Edge of the World 199). I hope these stories will, in some way, make a difference.
Once upon a time…
Right now, I am working on completing Fletcher and Sam’s story. Fletcher is in Faerie, now he has to find Sam and bring him back. This task will test Fletcher. I think their story could a novella, but I am not sure. I keep thinking of more things, of more story. The other project, which might be a novella, or at least along story, is a sequel to my first novel, The Wild Boy, and takes place two hundred years later, as humanity is recovering from the Long Nightmare of the Lindauzi conquest. When can you expect these novellas? Next year, I hope. I also want to revisit a novel I have rewritten a few times, The Golden Boy, set in alternate history, in the world of the Columbian Empire.
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